Remembering Don Schuele

Remembering Don Schuele

1934 to 2020

The brilliant professor of physics, a proud alumnus, devoted his career to Case and Case students. He also found a way to explain and honor the great scientists who came before him.

For the centennial of the Michelson-Morley Experiment in 1987, Don Schuele, PhD ’63, crafted a life-size model of the famous experiment. After a day of teaching, he would don overalls and go to work building the exhibit case and piecing together the apparatus that professors Albert Michelson and Edward Morley used to measure the speed of light in 1887.

 

His intent was not only to honor the bold researchers but to explain to students how they did it, Schuele explained in an interview with Case Alumnus in 2019. So he built a replica that stands today in the lobby of Schmitt Auditorium off Case Quad.

 

Cyrus Taylor, PhD, is not surprised.

 

“Don was a passionate believer in the centrality of students in everything that we do—and of teaching well,” said Taylor, who succeeded Schuele as the Albert A. Michelson Professor of Physics. “That experiment always generated questions, so he went down into the machine shop and built the replica.”

 

Schuele died December 19, 2020, at age 86 from complications of Covid-19. 

 

“I lost a friend and mentor,” Taylor said. “I think the university has lost one of our great servants.”

 

At a university renowned for its physicists, Schuele stood tall. He served Case Institute of Technology—and later Case Western Reserve University—as a teacher, researcher, administrator and dean. He became an expert in the physics of sports and helped U.S. Olympic teams to sharpen their game. He taught and mentored generations of students with boundless energy and a twinkle in his eye. 

 

A Columbus native, Schuele came to CIT from the faculty of John Carroll University in 1959 to earn his doctorate in physics. Over the next 40 years, he served Case in an array of leadership roles, including department chair, vice dean and two tours as dean.

 

He also served the Case Alumni Association as its president, from 2003-2004, and received its Meritorious Service Award in 2019.

 

“He was a staunch supporter of the school” and a prolific fundraiser when Case badly needed one, said former Dean Tom Kicher ’59, MS ’62, PhD ’65. “He was personally responsible for raising millions of dollars for scholarships.”

 

Despite his success as an administrator, Schuele most enjoyed his time as a classroom professor.

 

“Students at Case were always very good,” he told Case Alumnus. “To interact with these students was fun.”

 

He helped to make it so. A lifelong sports fan, Schuele plucked examples from the sporting world to teach the laws of physics. He enjoyed explaining to students why a batter could hit a curveball farther than a fastball—thanks to fluid dynamics.

 

In the 1980s, he helped bring physics to U.S. Olympic teams that were losing to Eastern European rivals with their sleeker bobsleds and faster luges. Schuele became a leading member of the Sports Equipment Technology Committee of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

 

Meanwhile, he and Clare, his wife of 63 years, raised six daughters and came to enjoy the affection of 13 grandchildren. Clare Schuele, a public health nurse trained at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, preceded him in death by just a few months.

 

Though he retired in 2005, Schuele maintained a lab on campus and continued working with graduate students, exploring physical mysteries well into his 80s. He was still publishing research in 2017, Taylor noted.

 

And that exhibit he built? In 2005 it was named an Historic Physics Site by the American Physical Society, the first and only such site in Ohio.


If you would like to support the legacy of Dr. Schuele, please make a gift to the Donald E. Schuele PhD’63 Endowment Fund at casealumni.org/schuele-fund/. For more information, contact Emily Speer, Director of Gift Planning and Grants Compliance at emily.speer@casealum.org; 216.368.2044.

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Don Schuele’s replica of the Michelson-Morley Experiment graces the lobby of Schmitt Auditorium.